Reagan’s Drug Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

By James Crawford — September 24, 1986 5 min read

Education groups have generally applauded President Reagan’s high-profile attack on illegal drugs and his proposal to expand federal support for drug-abuse-prevention programs in the schools.

But he drew criticism last week for a plan to divert $100 million from two higher-education programs to finance the effort in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

“We’re very pleased that the drug issue has become a major priority for the Administration,” said Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association. “Even if it does have political overtones, we’re glad they’re doing it.”

“But let’s come up with new dollars to address the problem,” she argued. “We can’t afford to take funds from one group of children and give them to another.”

The Administration’s “drug-free America act” would authorize $900- million in additional spending to fight drugs next year, with the bulk of the new funds going to law-enforcement efforts.

Educational programs aimed at preventing drug abuse-for which $3 million is now allocated-would become a $100-million federal commitment. But reductions in College Work Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants-programs that aid low-income undergraduates- would be used to offset the $loo-million appropriation.

“We’re trying to assess priorities,” said Bruce Carnes, the Education Department’s deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation. “The most important thing here, we’re saying, is to protect kids. They’re more important to protect than adults in college. We have to trade off.”

The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law required the Administration to propose the offsetting cuts, Mr. Carnes added.

Funding Debate

The Administration’s legislative package was unveiled Sept. 15, the morning after the President and Nancy Reagan went on nationwide television to appeal for a “national crusade” against drugs.

Days earlier, the House voted overwhelmingly to provide $350- million a year over the next three years for educational efforts to combat illegal drug use, with most of the funds earmarked for grants to school districts. The Senate has yet to consider anti-drug legislation.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett last week defended the Administration’s proposed funding level as adequate. “One-hundred million dollars, better targeted, based on what works, is better than $350- million that’s not focused,” he said.

Federal support of drug-abuse education “can be useful” because it leaves districts with “no excuse” not to develop effective programs, he said.

Mr. Bennett shrugged off criticism that the Administration’s proposal is parsimonious in aiding the schools. “Some people in the education community in this town have minds like cash registers,” he said.

“When you mention an idea, they say, ‘Where’s the money?’”

Samuel G. Sava, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, welcomed the Administration’s proposal and especially the department’s new pamphlet, “Schools Without Drugs.”

“For the first time, the issue of drugs has become a national issue,” he said. “It’s no longer the schools standing alone.”

“Money is important,” Mr. Sava added. “I wouldn’t want to downplay the importance of financial resources to deal with this issue. But we have little information to show how much money is really needed.”

The N.A.E.S.P. is conducting a national survey of school districts’ anti-drug efforts and funding requirements, Mr. Sava said, adding that the project is expected to be completed in about three months.

Spending Proposal

Under the Administration’s plan, at least 72 percent of the $100 million would go for state-administered grants to finance three-year projects by districts to discourage illegal drug use. Up to 8 percent could be reserved by state education agencies to support teacher training, law enforcement, and technical assistance to districts.

The Education Department would reserve $20 million to finance the development of curricular materials, publicity about model approaches, training, and research.

‘To qualify for funding, districts would have to involve parents, police, and other community figures in developing their programs; adopt a disciplinary code with penalties for drug use; provide counseling as well as education; and evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts.

If the plan wins Congressional approval, Mr. Carnes said, districts would start receiving the money “next spring or summer.”

In the enforcement area, the Administration proposal incorporates two measures approved by the House: The death penalty would be authorized in cases of murder committed during a drug transaction, and life sentences would be mandatory for those convicted of distributing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school building, including those affiliated with institutions of higher education.

Drug Testing

In the meantime, an Administration proposal mandating random drug tests for up to 1.1 million federal workers has generated controversy on Capitol Hill, as well as a lawsuit by a public-employee union.

And the issue of drug testing was interjected into the 1988 Presidential race when Pierre S. du Pont 4th, the former Governor of Delaware, officially entered the contest last week with a call for schools to administer drug tests to all students beginning at age 13. Those found to be using drugs should lose their eligibility to drive for two years, he said.

“If we can require vaccinations before kids go to school, we can require drug testing while they’re in school,” Mr. du Pont argued. “Of course, we must provide counseling and help for young people who need it. But we have to say, ‘If you use drugs, you won’t drive.’ ”

(Also last week, the Rev. Marion G. (Pat) Robertson, who announced that he would seek the Republican nomination for President if 3 million registered voters petitioned him to do so, called for a “new vision” that would include “public schools that are drug free.”)

Asked about testing last week, Mr. Bennett said, ‘“There may be situations where it’s appropriate.” But he added that successful efforts to combat drugs, including five cited in the department’s hew pamphlet, have made little use of mandatory drug tests.

The Secretary said, however, that he would “welcome a strong position from the heads of the teachers’ organizations” to ensure that their members are not using illegal drugs.

“I don’t know of anyone in my organization who is a drug user,” responded Ms. Futrell of the N.E.A. While drug testing of teachers with· out probable cause would be “an invasion of privacy,” she said, “it hasn’t been brought up. It’s not viewed as a problem.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 1986 edition of Education Week as Reagan’s Drug Plan Gets Mixed Reviews